Scalix offers Firefox-based imitation of Outlook

Scalix offers Firefox-based imitation of Outlook

Summary: For Scalix's first trick, it offered an Exchange-compatible e-mail and calendaring server for a fraction of the cost of what it takes to run Exchange. (The company's founder, Julie Farris [right], says savings typically run from 30 to 70 percent.

TOPICS: Browser
Scalix founder Julie Farris For Scalix's first trick, it offered an Exchange-compatible e-mail and calendaring server for a fraction of the cost of what it takes to run Exchange. (The company's founder, Julie Farris [right], says savings typically run from 30 to 70 percent.) With Scalix's server, Outlook clients supposedly won't even know when an Exchange server has been swapped out for a Scalix one. But for Scalix's second trick, it has developed a browser-based e-mail client that could make the developers of Google's GMail drool. Using DHTML, XML, and JavaScript, the developers at Scalix have come up with a browser-based e-mail and calendaring client that looks, feels, behaves and smells like Outlook (check out the photo). To the untrained eye, it's hard to tell the difference. But the Firefox logo in the titlebar is a hint. The interface has folders, look-ahead cache-based e-mail addressing, supports drag and drop, sorting, search (although a full text search can't be done across all folders yet), and more.

Podcast So, what are the implications of the technology? First, it may be a classic example of how open source can drive cost out of today's server infrastructures. But let's say you swap the servers to save money and the clients are still running Windows an Outlook. The next step to something more independent on the desktop is to get your users onto Scalix's browser-based e-mail client. One of the biggest advantages of this architecture over a fat client like Outlook is that users can go to any system and access their e-mail much the same way that can be done with Outlook Web Access (OWA). In fact, Scalix's e-mail client is exactly what OWA should be. (Shame on Microsoft for not having done something like this already -- especially since it is espousing the idea of HTML applications as a part of Longhorn.) Another big advantage is that it works identically in Firefox and Internet Explorer.

But suppose your users start accessing their e-mail inboxes and calendars with Firefox. At that point, the e-mail system that was one of your barriers to switching to Linux on the desktop no longer is. Yes, Novell's Evolution offers similar opportunities, but the migration path isn't as staged or as smooth.

I caught up with Farris for my first-ever podcast (download the MP3, or learn how to have them automatically downloaded while you're sleeping) from a trade show floor.

Topic: Browser

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  • What's wrong with OWA?

    Microsoft Outlook Web Access 2003 is the best Web based application I've ever seen when running on an IE browser in ActiveX mode. It has the richest user interface, and isn't sluggish and memory bloated like java based clients. People will usually not dispute that fact and instead say but-but it doesn't run on non-Windows and non-IE. MS OWA will work on Firefox or other browser that doesn't support ActiveX in a simplified mode. I saw the screen shot of the Scalix web client and it's ok, but it's kind of hard to tell since Scalix didn't bother to put up a real live web demo. It doesn't quite look as rich as the Outlook Web Access 2003 client.

    I've posted a follow up to this blog that looks at the Microsoft Exchange Server angle.
    • Yes what IS wrong

      I friend of mine, in the Mac-business, told me that even his customers have exchange servers and Outlook running.

      The reason of course being that the market in Outlook/Exchange-like services/applications for scheduling, cooperation and mail have long been MS backyard.

      So power to MS, they have succeeded in creating an application/server combo that have had no real peer.

      That however is not ideal for the consumer-market which find themselves without choice. I'm not dissing Outlook here or OWA, they're great. Well, at least apart from being the number one target for viruses and exploits, together with IE.
      In the long run everyone benefits from competition though, even in part MS. Competition will make sure they stay on their toes not to lose their market - something that is necessary not to stagnate.

      And the only argument for monoculture that sticks in my opinion, is that it advances communication and cooperation between people on compatible systems. That argument falls on its nose if other systems are just as compatible. Outlook and OWA will probably still be top dog for a long time, but diversity is good - especially when it doesn't hinder cooperation.
    • Several things

      Outlook Web Access is in no way a replacement for the Outlook client, which is what my users and people I interact with, want. This is apparently what the Scalix client offers.
      Outlook Web Access's interface is poor compared to just about any other web mail client I have used such as INotes or even Ipswitch IMail Express. OWA tries to emulate the look of Outlook, without the features, which I think is a bad idea. If OWA doesn't have the same functionality as Outlook, then the similarity in appearance is not a desirable quality as far as I am concerned. It confuses my users when they cannot set options via OWA that they can set with Outlook when they are in the office. All users are not at the same level of expertise as poeple who frequent this forum. At least, most of mine are not. And they shouldn't have to be. They are professionals in other fields.
      John Kozura IV MCP
      IS Manager
  • This could be an Outlook killer...

    I?m no big fan of Microsoft, but I always thought Exchange was
    one of their better products. The features such as e-mail,
    calendar, address book, permissions, meeting maker and other
    features are very well suited for the corporate environment. It
    works well and can be used in creative ways beyond simple e-
    mail. My only gripe has always been initial cost and yearly
    licensing fees. This could save a lot of companies a lot of
    money. If its features match or surpass those of Exchange, then
    companies would be foolish to not take a hard look at this
  • Oh, How The Mighty Have Fallen

    IE Killer and Outlook killer in 100 days?

    Keep up the good work!
    • Dreamer...

      ... but I guess playing follow the leader is what OSS does best. Find a killer application and copy away. I guess imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery.

      Don't worry, neither IE nor Outlook are even close to needing life support.
      Confused by religion
      • RE: Dreamer...

        I think that it is important to imitate and replace as well as offer alternatives any time you attempt to enter any market segment dominated by something else. Only when your replacement can completely and seamlessly replace the existing giant can you successfully do anything but copy.

        Linux has plenty of its own features and capabilities, and a great number of its features and capabilities are based on UNIX-like concepts rather than Windows-based ideas. To me, Linux borrows some of the best from both spaces and is making inroads at reducing some of the things that are in need of change in both spaces. Is it perfect? Of course not. But I think Linux has created a viable alternative that includes copies and replacements that are worthwhile and plenty of just plain good applications. GIMP, Mozilla, OpenOffice, and Scribus are just a few applications, (some of which also run on other systems) that provide good functional alternatives and added value to what can be found in the status quo, in my opinion.
      • Milly, I Take Your Comments About As Serious As I Take My Morning Dump

        Not at all....
      • OSS follows the leader?

        I'm not sure what world you live in, but to think that "playing follow the leader is what OSS does best" shows your ignorance as a Windows user. I'm sorry to break it to you, but you better take a look at your buddy Microsoft, who wrote the book "following the leader". Where do you think Word, Exchange, IE, Messanger, and parts of the Windows core OS, etc. all come from? That's right, other companies ideas, and many from OSS projects.

        This project has the potential to kill Exchange much like Firefox has the potential to kill IE and how Linux has the potential to kill Windows. If they play it right and target the right markets, people looking to upgrade their Exchange 2000/5.5 setups will definitely go with Scalix.
  • This may not be a killer, but it shows an alternative

    I have my doubts that this application will be an Outlook killer. I've not even heard of it prior to this article, but it does demonstrate that it is possible to come up with viable alternatives. I do hope that this application finds itself to be useful for many people. While I don't have any particular need for it, I'm satisfied with what I have now, if it shows itself to be a solid alternative to Outlook and Exchange and finds popularity in the Linux space, I'd at least consider it as an alternative to what I use now. However, as of right now, the Mozilla based Web and Email applications appeal most to me, and they run on several different OS.
  • nice toy

    where is the catch, is it free?, outlook express works, don't giver me virus crap, never had one, we don't have them and we have relaxed security, just smarts, what wbout the rest of the pacjage that comes with outlook? are we going to have drool mouthed java apps and slow to execute open office to go with it or is novell going to code us into nirvana?

    i really hate m$, but this kind of self-agrandizing linuxism, free me and the workd will be yours, hey wait we need a paycheck, i don't invent i copy, imitation is flattery, still no real innovation from oss or m$ is lame, the only innovation that has not been evolution is itunes store and ipod, the rest of the fruit is their own rehash algorithm of out-of-breath steve, give me something more than your flatterly of the undeniable wasted time use-fullness of outlook
  • Scalix is not open source, but a hybrid....

    Scalix is a "Hybrid Open Source? product. Which translates into a regular "for purchase" product. The cost is $60.00 per seat and is not free (Try to find that on Scalix's web site). Yet another spin article by the Dave Berlind using his patented writing method of "If it runs on Linux, it must be better."

    How is Scalix not proprietary? The answer is that they are no different in their business model than Microsoft. They, like other ?Open Source? products, have moved beyond the meaning open source to regular commercial products. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, it must be a duck.

    For those who haven't figured it out, Open Source days are quickly ending. Thanks for your free labor; the corporations will take over from here........
    • Free Software (a.k.a. Open Source) Doesn't Mean Free ($$)

      Free Software means the ability of users to share, enhance and distributed software - it doesn't mean there won't be a charge for it. Sure, some of it comes without fees, but most of it has some sort of fees attached for development, support, etc.

      The real advantage is the ability to enhance applications and add functionality without the need to re-build the base code (a.k.a. re-invent the wheel). This has benefits in cost, stability, security and time-to-market.
      IT Makes Sense
      • Yeh, Free ain't Free

        What the writere was pointing to (none to succinctly) was that there's a FEE associated with this product, which I was unable after five minutes to figure out. Thank you, ITMS for that revelation.

        I think (IMHO) Scalix could seed the world with this software, with a max user limit of say two dozen, and clean Outlook's clock.
  • One big difference

    This provides a richer experience than OWA and there are no plug-ins whatsoever. No ActiveX. Nothing. It runs exactly the same in Firefox as it does IE.
    • What version of OWA are you comparing with?

      What version of OWA are you comparing with? OWA 2000 or OWA 2003. From the looks of your screen shot, it doesn't look as rich as the OWA 2003 interface. Maybe Scalix works better than it looks, but I?ll have to look myself. OWA 2000 was missing a lot more features but OWA 2003 has closed the gap. The thing about all web based clients is that they don?t work in offline mode. I'm going to give this platform a try in VMWare and see how well it integrates and works.

      The fact that Scalix doesn't need ActiveX is inconsequential to the bulk of corporations who standardize on IE. Now I realize that's frustrating for some, but it is corporate reality. Therefore it is perfectly legitimate for corporations who standardize on IE to compare Scalix OWA with ActiveX based OWA 2003.
      • "Doesn't look as rich"?

        What, specifically, are you addressing? I may have missed something, of course. What are the exact features that appear to be missing? "Rich" is a rather nebulous term, but should be translatable to very specific features. What are they?
        Martin Marvinski
        • I said "look", not actual feature set

          I based that comment on the "look" of the screen shot. They've responded to me on my blog and gave some specifics on how their SWA (Scalix Web Access) is better than OWA in terms of functionality. I initially didn't see their live demo because I was looking the wrong place. I checked out their recorded WebEX demo and SWA was quite impressive. The feature set was indeed better than even OWA 2003 and blows away OWA 2000. It doesn't look as "pretty" as OWA 2003, but it looks like it "works" better than OWA 2003.

          I'm going to try to build a demo server my self in my lab and give it a try to answer the rest of my questions. Scalix is starting to look like a serious threat to Exchange and Outlook.
  • Hey, I LIKE my thousand Exchange servers!

    They keep my data center NICE and WARM! ;)
    Roger Ramjet
    • Right along with your hot air

      Yeah, like you really own 1000 exchange servers. You don't need them because you got enough hot air to fill the data center all by yourself :).